Highlights from Capitals-Maple Leafs
How do you tell a team that’s dead last in the NHL to ignore the standings?
How do you convince a team that has lost eight of its first 10 games that it is playing well?
If you’re Adam Oates you just keep saying the same things over and over.
“You run out of clichés to say to the guys,” Oates said after watching the Capitals fall 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs in front of a restless sellout crowd at VerizonCenter.
“It’s tough to keep [the coaches’] confidence up. It’s part of the job. We have to figure out ways to get the guys to understand they’re doing a lot of good things and hopefully they’ll turn our way.”
And while it’s only 10 games into the season, it is getting late early for the Caps.
Their 2-7-1 start is their worst after 10 games since going 1-9-0 to start the 1981-82 season. That team went 1-14-0 through 15 games and finished the season 26-41-13.
This team should be far better.
But as they showed again on Tuesday, when every mistake ends up in your net, it’s hard to win in the NHL.
The biggest and most costly mistake came just 10 minutes into the game when goaltender Michal Neuvirth went behind his net and left the puck for defenseman Tom Poti. But when Poti hesitated, James van Riemsdyk swooped in, snatched the puck and swung in front of the net for a backhander into the open net.
“He thought I was going to get open for a pass and I thought he was going to leave the puck there,” Poti said. “We have to be sharper there.”
Van Riemsdyk said his eyes lit up when he saw the confusion between Poti and Neuvirth. “I saw them kind of looking at each other like who was going to take the puck and it was just sitting there,” van Riemsdyk said. “So I went to go grab it and was able to wrap it in.”
Van Riemsdyk made it 2-0 just 2:35 later when he jabbed Cody Franson rebound past Neuvirth for his sixth goal of the season and third against the Capitals.
The Caps cut the lead in half when Marcus Johansson scored his first goal of the season on a nice power-play feed from rookie Tomas Kundratek, but another questionable goal surrendered by Neuvirth midway through the second period broke the Capitals’ backs.
Toronto rookie Korbinian Holzer made it 3-1 when he fired a shot from the point that hit off a stick and squirted through the pads of Neuvirth
“That was a big goal for them,” Neuvirth said. “I couldn’t believe that one went in.”
On the bright side, the Caps were excellent on special teams, killing off all three Leafs power plays while scoring on two of their own. That second came when Mike Ribeiro scored off a nice series of passes from Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer.
Ovechkin finished the night with four shots but now has just two goals on 38 shots heading into Thursday night’s rematch against the Penguins, who blitzed the Caps 6-3 on Sunday.
“It’s tough,” Poti said. “We’ve got to keep fighting. We’re not going to give up in here. We’ve got to keep pushing. We’ve got a big game against Pittsburgh coming up and we have to get two points.”